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From the July 1997 SURVEY OF CURRENT BUSINESS



The International Investment Position
of the United States in 1996

By Russell B. Scholl

Harlan W. King directed the preparation of the estimates; Christopher A. Gohrband prepared several of the accounts with the assistance of Dena A. Holland; Douglas B. Weinberg prepared the direct investment accounts at current cost.

The net international investment position of the United States at yearend 1996 was -$870.5 billion with direct investment valued at the current cost of tangible assets, and it was -$831.3 billion with direct investment valued at the current stock-market value of owners' equity (table A, chart 1). For both measures, the value of foreign assets in the United States continued to exceed the value of U.S. assets abroad. However, for the direct investment component of the position valued on either basis, U.S. assets abroad continue to exceed foreign assets in the United States.

The net position on both bases became more negative as a result of large net capital inflows to the United States in 1996; valuation changes nearly offset each other (table B). A negative adjustment for net exchange rate changes mainly represented translation losses in U.S. assets denominated in Western European currencies and the Japanese yen, as these currencies declined against the U.S. dollar. A positive price change reflected a larger price appreciation in U.S. portfolio and direct investments in foreign stocks than in corresponding foreign investments in U.S. stocks. Stock prices in all the major world markets except Japan's advanced strongly.

In 1996, U.S. assets abroad increased strongly, as large private capital outflows were augmented by substantial price appreciation in foreign stocks. U.S. banks and nonbanking concerns lent heavily to overseas banks and international bond mutual funds, especially during a surge in overseas demand for dollar loans in the second half of the year. U.S. direct investment abroad on a current-cost basis was boosted by record capital outflows, including record reinvested earnings from widespread growth in overseas affiliates' earnings. On a market-value basis, the direct-investment increase was augmented by a large increase in owners' equity as a result of widespread advances in overseas stock prices; partly offsetting were currency translation losses, primarily in European affiliates. The market value of U.S. portfolio holdings of foreign securities rose not only because of the advance in stock prices overseas, but also because of strong U.S. net purchases of foreign stocks and bonds.

Foreign assets in the United States increased mainly as a result of record capital inflows that included large net foreign purchases of U.S. Treasury, corporate, and federally-sponsored agency bonds, a large increase in foreign direct investment, and a large increase in foreign official assets. Foreign demand for U.S. bonds accelerated through the year; demand was buoyed by a substantial widening in the differential between U.S. and foreign long-term interest rates, a second-half recovery in U.S. bond prices, and widespread strength of the U.S. dollar in exchange markets throughout the year. The foreign direct investment buildup reflected continued growth in foreign acquisitions of U.S. businesses and record reinvested earnings, as the sustained U.S. economic growth further strengthened affiliates' earnings. On a market-value basis, the direct-investment buildup also reflected the strong rise in U.S. stock prices. Foreign portfolio holdings of U.S. stocks also benefited from the rising U.S. stock market. These substantial increases in foreign private assets in the United States were augmented for the second straight year by a record buildup of foreign official assets, largely of U.S. Treasury securities.

This article presents the major changes in U.S. assets abroad and in foreign assets in the United States, including direct investment valued both at current cost and at market value. Tables 1, 2, and 3 at the end of the article present detailed estimates of the yearend position, showing a breakdown of the changes by account from 1995 to 1996, aggregate estimates by area for 1995–96, and historical estimates for 1982–96, respectively.

This issue also contains a companion article, "Direct Investment Positions for 1996: Country and Industry Detail." The detailed estimates presented in that article are available only on a historical-cost basis.

Changes in U.S. Assets Abroad

Bank claims

U.S. banks' claims increased $96.0 billion, to $864.1 billion, in 1996 (table C). The increase in claims was especially strong in the second half of the year, reflecting a surge in demand for dollar credits in the overseas interbank market and the step-up in foreign demand for U.S. securities. Most of the increase was accounted for by claims payable in dollars, which were augmented by a large increase in U.S. banks' customers' claims.

U.S. banks' own claims payable in dollars increased $68.3 billion, to $600.7 billion, mostly reflecting an increase in claims on their own foreign offices and unaffiliated banks. Interbank lending was particularly strong to banks in Europe, where in the second half of the year, general credit demands were swelled by financing demands for mergers and acquisitions and for purchases of U.S. securities. Lending to banks in Canada and in Asia excluding Japan occurred mostly in the first half of the year. Stepped-up bank lending to Latin America reflected the improved credit standing of several countries. A substantial increase in claims on the Caribbean reflected increased lending to international bond mutual funds by U.S. securities dealers during the bond rally in the fourth quarter. Claims on Japan, though large, changed little, as moderate economic activity and the continued financial difficulties of Japanese banks limited demand.

U.S. banks' customers' claims payable in dollars increased $26.8 billion, to $182.3 billion, as the customers' deposits at foreign banks increased to accommodate the rising overseas demand for dollar loans. In addition, customers continued to invest strongly in foreign commercial paper placed in the U.S. market.

U.S. banks' foreign currency claims declined until the fourth quarter, when lending resumed and brought yearend total outstandings to $81.1 billion, marginally higher than at the end of 1995.

Foreign securities

Between yearend 1995 and yearend 1996, U.S. holdings of foreign securities increased $219.1 billion, to $1,273.4 billion, as a result of strong net purchases and of large, widespread price appreciation in foreign stocks (table D). Partly offsetting these increases were exchange rate losses, mostly in securities denominated in Continental European currencies and the Japanese yen. These estimates incorporate the results of the new U.S. Treasury Department's Benchmark Survey of U.S. Ownership of Foreign Long-term Securities as of March 31, 1994./1/ Based on this survey, a ranking by country of issue of U.S. foreign portfolio holdings is presented in table E.

In 1996, U.S. holdings of foreign stocks increased $176.4 billion, to $875.5 billion, as near-record U.S. net purchases of $58.8 billion were augmented by $117.8 billion in price appreciation (table F). During the year, stock prices in most foreign markets rose strongly in response to widespread economic growth and to declining short-term interest rates. Additional factors contributing to the increase in the U.S. position in foreign stocks were U.S. investor participation in the privatization issues of several countries, the recovery of stock prices in emerging countries, and the efforts of U.S. institutional investors to further diversify their portfolio investments. Investments, mostly in Japanese stocks, slowed in the second half of the year.

U.S. holdings of foreign bonds increased $42.7 billion, to $398.0 billion, reflecting $49.4 billion in net purchases that was partly offset by $7.5 billion in exchange rate depreciation of European and Japanese bonds (table G). U.S. institutional investors in search of high-yielding assets absorbed a large volume of newly issued foreign dollar bonds in the U.S. market, including many noninvestment grade foreign issues. Foreign new issues, at $52.4 billion, approached the 1993 record. Emerging countries in Latin America and Asia accounted for over 60 percent of the new issues, more than double their new issues in 1995. Europeans and Canadians continued as large borrowers, though not as large as in 1995, as long-term interest-rate differentials against borrowing dollars increased in most of these countries. Net U.S. trading in other foreign bonds amounted to net sales of $3.0 billion. The widening interest-rate differential in favor of U.S. bonds slowed U.S. diversification into most foreign bonds, with the notable exception of British gilt-edged bonds. Net U.S. purchases from the United Kingdom became large in the second half of the year, when U.S. interest rates fell more than British rates.

U.S. direct investment abroad and other private assets

U.S. direct investment abroad at current cost increased $86.5 billion, to $970.8 billion; at market value, it increased $222.6 billion, to $1,534.6 billion (table H). Net capital outflows exceeded the strong outflows of 1995. By account, reinvested earnings increased to a record high, reflecting record profits of foreign affiliates and a continued high rate of reinvestment; net equity outflows slowed but remained strong due to numerous mergers and acquisitions; and net intercompany debt shifted to an outflow, as U.S.-parent firms cut back borrowing from their finance affiliates overseas. The strong outflows reflected widespread economic growth, especially in Europe and emerging Asian countries, and economic recovery in several Latin American countries.

At current cost, the direct investment position increased mostly as a result of capital outflows; valuation adjustments were small and offsetting. At market value, the increase in the position due to capital outflows was augmented by a substantial increase in U.S. owners' equity as a result of the worldwide rise in stock prices. In Europe, where 50 percent of U.S. investments are located, the rise in stock prices averaged 20 percent, ranging from 6 percent in Italy to 40 percent in Sweden (according to Morgan Stanley's international indexes); in several of the emerging countries, stock prices recovered substantially. These increases were partly offset by negative exchange rate changes, mostly in Continental Europe.

U.S. claims on unaffiliated foreigners reported by U.S. nonbanking concerns increased $61.1 billion, to $369.1 billion, as these U.S. firms sharply accelerated their overseas deposits in the second half of the year. The acceleration, mostly in dollar deposits in European and Caribbean banks, represented funding to meet the surge in overseas demand for bank credit.

U.S. official reserve assets and other U.S. Government assets

U.S. official reserve assets declined $15.3 billion, to $160.7 billion. Foreign-currency holdings decreased $10.8 billion; holdings of pesos declined as Mexico repaid $8.3 billion in short-term and medium-term swap arrangements with U.S. authorities, and holdings of Japanese yen and German marks decreased as these currencies depreciated against the dollar.

Other U.S. Government assets increased $0.7 billion, to $82.6 billion; long-term credits extended exceeded repayments.

Changes in Foreign Assets
in the United States

Foreign official assets

Foreign official assets in the United States increased $126.7 billion, to $805.1 billion; record capital inflows accounted for most of the increase. These inflows represented acquisitions of dollars through exchange market intervention and investment of the unused proceeds of funds borrowed by governments in the international markets during the year. Dollar placements were mainly in U.S. Treasury securities: Industrial countries accounted for $65.5 billion, and developing countries, mainly in Latin America and Asia, for $56.9 billion.

Bank liabilities

U.S. banks' liabilities to private foreigners and international financial institutions increased $6.5 billion, to $819.9 billion, reflecting a further reduction in U.S. banks' use of foreign funds (table I). U.S. banks borrowed little from overseas until a surge in domestic and foreign demand for bank credit late in the year. Through much of the year, the growth in domestic deposits provided banks with ample funding and enabled banks to pay down their liability positions with their own foreign offices. Late in the year, banks in the United States, especially foreign-owned banks, financed strong growth in loans by supplementing domestic funds with large-scale borrowing from their overseas offices. Japanese-owned banks in the United States, which made large loan repayments, were the exception.

Foreign-owned banks in the United States, which accounted for much of the increase in interbank liabilities, borrowed heavily from their home offices in Europe and Canada and affiliated offices in the Caribbean, particularly in the fourth quarter, to fund their heavy domestic and foreign lending. This borrowing was partly offset by Japanese banks' large net repayments to their offices abroad throughout much of the year. U.S.-owned banks also borrowed in the fourth quarter, mostly from their own foreign offices in the United Kingdom and the Caribbean; however, this borrowing was not enough to keep net repayments to those offices earlier in the year from resulting in a decline in their interbank liabilities.

Liabilities to nonbank foreigners increased $14.5 billion, to $116.5 billion, reflecting a widening of the short-term interest-rate differentials that favored dollar deposits and the strong exchange value of the dollar in the second half of the year. Large inflows came from the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and international financial institutions.

U.S. banks' foreign-currency liabilities declined $5.9 billion, to $103.8 billion, mostly because of repayments to Western Europe and Japan. This cutback in funding coincided with a sharp reduction in foreign-currency lending by U.S. banks.

Custody liabilities reported by U.S. banks increased $2.7 billion, to $36.6 billion. Repayments by U.S. nonbank customers early in the year were more than offset by a surge in their borrowing in the second half, mainly from banks in the Caribbean and the United Kingdom.

U.S. Treasury securities

Foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury securities by both private foreigners and international financial institutions increased $141.2 billion, to $530.6 billion (table J). Net purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds reached a record that was two-thirds higher than the previous record in 1995. A negative price adjustment reflected a drop in bond prices in the first half of the year that was not fully offset by a recovery in prices in the second half. Foreign purchases of Treasury bonds accelerated throughout the year, as the U.S. interest-rate differential in favor of Treasury bonds widened substantially and as the dollar remained strong. The U.S.-Japanese long-term interest-rate differential reached a 7-year high of over 400 basis points, which induced heavy demand from Japan and other countries in Asia. Purchases from the United Kingdom and international bond funds in the Caribbean were especially strong during the second half, when U.S. bond prices rallied.

By country, Japan and the United Kingdom are the largest investors in foreign official and private holdings of U.S. Treasury securities (table K).

U.S. currency

Foreign holdings of U.S. currency increased $17.3 billion, to $209.6 billion, or 53 percent of U.S. currency outstanding at yearend 1996. These newly introduced estimates of foreign holdings indicate that overseas demand for U.S. currency has strengthened considerably in the 1990's, mostly as a result of economic and political upheavals in several areas. No country detail of these currency holdings is available./2/

Other U.S. securities

Foreign holdings of U.S. securities, other than U.S. Treasury securities, increased $226.0 billion, to $1,225.5 billion. The increase reflected the record net purchases of U.S. corporate and agency bonds and the large price appreciation of U.S. stocks (table L). Despite the swing in U.S. long-term interest rates—rising steeply early in the year and falling in the second half—the change in the differential against most major foreign bond markets increased in favor of U.S. investments. This yield advantage was augmented by the dollars' strength against most major currencies during the year.

Foreign holdings of U.S. bonds increased $120.0 billion, to $654.1 billion, as foreign buying outpaced the record buying in 1995 by 50 percent. In response to this strong foreign demand, U.S. corporations issued a near-record $53.4 billion in new bonds overseas; issues of fixed-rate bonds slowed, but issues of floating-rate bonds and of asset-backed bonds accelerated. Foreigners accelerated investments in U.S. federally-sponsored agency bonds to a record $44.6 billion; some of these bonds were newly issued abroad by U.S. corporations that have sought to diversify their sources of funds in the past 2 years. Foreign investments in other outstanding U.S. corporate bonds also accelerated to $23.2 billion, following small net sales in the past 2 years.

Foreign holdings of U.S. stocks increased $105.9 billion, to $571.3 billion, reflecting $93.3 billion in price appreciation and $12.6 billion in net foreign purchases. Foreign purchases in the last 2 years have been moderate in comparison with the very strong rises in U.S. stock market prices—34 percent in 1995 and 20 percent in 1996 (according to Standard and Poor's combined index of 500 stocks). Notwithstanding the moderate pace of foreigners' purchases in those 2 years, the gains in foreign holdings were considerable, adding over 60 percent to the value of their investments. Western Europeans, who accounted for half of the 1996 net purchases, slowed their purchases from those in 1995. Net purchases by financial centers in the Caribbean and in Asia excluding Japan also slowed.

Foreign direct investment in the United States and other liabilities

Foreign direct investment in the United States at current cost increased $74.6 billion, to $729.1 billion; at market value, it increased $221.7 billion, to $1,253.6 billion (table M). At current cost, net capital inflows more than accounted for the total change. At market value, capital inflows were augmented by substantial price appreciation in owners' equity as a result of the steep rise in U.S. stock prices. These estimates incorporate the results of BEA's 1992 benchmark survey of foreign direct investment in the United States./3/ In 1996, net capital inflows reached a record high. By account, net equity inflows approached their 1990 peak, reflecting continued growth in acquisitions of U.S. businesses, and record reinvested earnings reflected the favorable effect on U.S. affiliates' earnings of the sustained economic growth in the United States; in contrast, net intercompany debt inflows were slightly lower than in 1995.

Liabilities to unaffiliated foreigners reported by U.S. nonbanking concerns increased $38.6 billion, to $271.5 billion, principally reflecting U.S. corporations' borrowing from banks in the Caribbean and the United Kingdom after midyear.

Box: Data Improvements

Table 1

Table 2

Table 3

1. For more information, see "U.S. International Transactions, Revised Estimates for 1974–96," page 46.

2. For more information about the new estimates, see "U.S. International Transactions, Revised Estimates for 1974–96," page 48.

3. For more information, see "U.S. International Transactions, Revised Estimates for 1974–96," page 50.

DCSIMG